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The necessity for educational institutions to equip students with the skills to cope in a rapidly changing, culturally diverse and globalised 21st century society, has led academics, such as the New London Group, to encourage educators to acknowledge the various literacy forms utilised in the new millennium (The New London Group, 1996) and to adopt a pedagogy of multiliteracies. This essay will explore the components of a pedagogy of multiliteracies and identify the transformations needed for the successful implementation of multiliteracies into educational practice. Likewise, the notion of language as a social practice which influences teaching content and assessment practices in secondary education will be examined, as will the use of multiliteracies in the teaching of the Mathematics curriculum. To understand the role of multiliteracies in pedagogy theory development, it is important to define the term literacy. Literacy is an evolving term that refers to an individual’s ability to construct and comprehend meaning via the accepted symbol systems of one’s country or language group (Winch, Johnston, March, Ljungdahl, Holliday, 2010).
These symbol systems include written and spoken language and visual information such as icons and other graphical information. While literacy was traditionally viewed as a cognitive process with a focus on reading, writing and numeracy identification, in recent years its definition has become broadened to encompass the burgeoning text types being generated via multimedia and information technology (Winch et al., 2010). These electronic text types have quickly established themselves as integral components of a diverse range of 21st century vocations and social interactions (Tan, 2006). A pedagogy of multiliteracies encompasses multimedia and digital text forms as well as traditional written and spoken texts.
Likewise, the central role of literacy in a diverse range of knowledge domains and vocations has resulted in educators being encouraged to view literacy as a vital skill underpinning successful teaching and learning in all curriculum areas. The New London Group (1996) viewed the role of design as an ever changing paradigm of three stage teaching and learning processes. The first step, ‘Available Designs’ is determining what resources are available. These resources include texts, symbols, audio and visual resources. The second step is ‘Designing’ which takes these ‘Available Designs’ and places them within a social context, such as the classroom or learning environment, and is facilitated by an individual such as a teacher. This step creates an output with new meaning for both the learning environment and facilitator. This knowledge or new meaning is known as ‘Redesign’ (The New London Group, 1996).
Literacy is a social practice that is not just taught in secondary schools, it is something which is part of each individual’s everyday life. According to Anstey & Bull (2000), the way in which an individual may read the world will be strongly linked to the contexts of their own life. The NSW Department of Education and Training (2006) maintains that literacy is a skill that continues to grow and develop and is fundamental to students’ success at school as well as for the rest of their life. For literacy to be successful in schools, it is planned in collaboration with parents and teachers. This collaborative approach reinforces that literacy is inherently a social practice. This approach must include a range of social influences and practices, in order to increase student’s knowledge and skill in the real world for real purposes (NSW Department of Education and Training, 2006).
As literacy development is undoubtedly a whole school and community approach, it is essential that a multiliteracies pedagogy, be utilised in the teaching of all curriculum areas. The impact of societal and cultural change is clearly reflected in the mathematics curriculum through the use of digital technologies such as graphical programs and spreadsheets. This use of technology provides numerous opportunities for the teaching of multiliteracies. Through explicit teaching and learning experiences of digital texts, students are provided with the skills to successfully navigate and comprehend information communicated digitally. These skills can be acquired through students being provided with opportunities to access information via Internet websites. Likewise, students can use information technology to construct their own texts, thus allowing them to communicate their understanding of concepts to others. This may be achieved by encouraging students to construct texts through the use of software programs such as Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Visio, both of which allow students to communicate information graphically.
These digital mediums allow students to acquire skills which will assist them in acquiring real world skills which they can utilise to gain and construct meaning, both in and out of the classroom. (Winch et al., 2010). Technology is an essential part of the transformations taking place in the social, political, cultural and economic spheres of contemporary society (Groundwater- Smith, Brennan, McFadden, Mitchell and Munns, 2009). Secondary school teachers need to prepare students with the skills necessary for life in a rapidly changing, technological world. In order to equip students with these skills, teachers must possess deep knowledge of relevant technologies (Treadwell, 2008). The Mathematics curriculum includes teaching of: statistics, probability, algebra, financial concepts, economics, technology, measurement and trigonometry. These strands include skills applicable to an individual’s school/work life, social life and personal life. Mathematics content areas, focus on aspects of society, reform, technology and life skills.
It is important for teachers to link the social practice of literacy with the factors of a pedagogy of multiliteracies to create the best teaching environment they can (The New London Group, 1996). Walsh (2006) cites an example of successfully teaching his students literacy practices, through social relationships. Students worked in groups and were able to demonstrate specific social language structures. They were able to “enact, recognise and negotiate” in a social environment (The New London Group, 1996, p. 3) by design and re-design of Internet web pages. The created web pages were diverse, with each student using their own discourse to create what they believed the web page should contain. Prior to using multi-modal and digital literacy mediums in their teaching, it is essential that teachers be aware of cognitive and language factors in learning. The ability to use multimodal learning, digital literacies and genres specific to each curriculum area must be carefully planned by the teacher. According to Winch et al., (2010) a multiliteracy pedagogy involves developing the ability to use language purposefully and skillfully in a range of social settings, rather than learning isolated segments of knowledge such as grammar conventions and spelling. Multiliteracy includes the use and creation of multimodal and multimedia texts (Winch et al., 2010).
Multiliteracy seeks to address the rapid changes in literacy brought about by globalisation, cultural and social diversity and information technology (Winch et al., 2010). In response to these societal changes, The New London Group (1996), questioned the role of schools and outlined a need for change in literacy teaching due to key changes in three areas of life: working life, public life and personal life (life worlds). Central to these changes, was the need for schools to integrate learning with life experiences that students have both in and out of the classroom. “As these three major realms of social activity have shifted, so the roles and responsibilities of schools must shift” (The New London Group, 1996, p.18). The New London Group advocated for a change in the way, education was delivered, by enhancing the existing structures and overlaying with a new “what” and “how” of literacy teaching (The New London Group, 1996).
The ‘how’ of pedagogy comes from a view of how learning is acquired, embedded and utilised. The New London Group (1996) proposed that a pedagogy of multiliteracies is a complex blend of four methods of design. The first is Situated Practice which involves learning by creating meaningful learning experiences that allow students be in an environment where the learning replicates the social use of what is being learnt. It is an environment where risks can be taken and ‘trial and error’ is used to gain mastery of skills or knowledge. It should be used “…developmentally, to guide learners to the experiences and the assistance they need to develop further as members of the community, capable of drawing on, and ultimately contributing to, the full range of it’s resources.” (The New London Group, 1996, p. 33). Situated Practice should be designed to motivate students to want to know, and engage students in their learning in a safe environment. Assessment or evaluation is not considered part of Situated Practice. Overt Instruction is the second method of how a pedagogy of mulitliteracies is implemented.
This involves teachers guiding and using effective teaching techniques such as scaffolding or explicit instruction to build student’s knowledge and confidence. Examination of the current secondary school’s Mathematics curriculum, (NSW department of Education and Training, 2010) reveals many opportunities for teachers and students to collaborate and engage in dialogue related to mathematical concepts which will guide and provide a scaffold for student learning. For example, the teacher makes links with prior learning, through asking open questions to the group, and uses multi-modal methods such as mathematical symbols, diagrams, charts and pictures to add to the learning. With each progression of new learning in the lesson, the teacher labels a new part of the diagram. Overt Instruction “….includes centrally the sorts of collaborative efforts between teacher and student wherein the student is both allowed to accomplish a task more complex than they can accomplish on their own and they are conscious of the teacher’s representation and interpretation of that task….” (The New London Group (1996, p. 20).
Thirdly, Critical Framing focuses on the “how” of a pedagogy of multiliteracies, through the use and application of real world knowledge. This method is where assessment and evaluation of one’s self understanding can begin in relation to cultural, social, political and historical influences on what has been learned (New London Group, 1996). Teachers are able to encourage students to apply their learning in a practical sense and assess the transfer of student’s knowledge or skill. This knowledge is based on what they have previously learned, and requires students to “constructively critique it, account for its cultural location; creatively extend and apply it and eventually innovate own” and strengthen their ability to demonstrate what they have learned (The New London Group, 1996, p. 37). A mathematical example of this process is the conversion of degrees to radians. Its real life use is the calculation of the speed of a piece of machinery. This calculation includes the formula in terms of radians rather than degrees.
Finally, Transformed Practice is “where we try and re-enact a discourse by engaging in it for our real purposes” (The New London Group, 1996, p. 36). Students need to think and learn outside their own discourse and think about how they can re-create their meaning, linking their own discourses to understand what they have learned. An example of this practice was where students were asked to plan and present a lesson including a Wiki activity and a Prezi (presentation tool) that teaches the concepts from a previous mathematics lesson. In groups, students collaboratively utilised the Internet to research topics, and create: work sheets for others to complete, interactive wiki activities, team tasks, and their own YouTube clips. The lesson included the use and creation of multimodal texts and scaffolding of existing knowledge. Students developed new knowledge through authentic multimodal texts such as image, sound, video and written text (Tan, 2006).
Gunning (2002) explores the impact of reading and writing difficulties in a social stance, and highlights that poor instructions given by teachers can contribute to a student’s difficulties. Gunning’s (2002) observations and research serve as a reminder that teachers must be sure to provide the ‘what’ and ‘how’ of multiliteracies, to ensure each student has the opportunity to progress. Teachers need to evaluate their current practice and identify the text types typically used in the Mathematics content areas and consider the social needs and teaching strategies that will develop student’s literacy skills (Goos, Stillman., & Vale, 2007). In a mathematics lesson, students were introduced to the ‘Simpson’s rule’ formula. The lesson’s aim was for students to measure the area beneath a real life object, gain an understanding of what is needed to complete the formula and how the variables are calculated.
Students were required to work collaboratively in pairs, discussing various ways in which measurements were taken in order to obtain an accurate result in working out the area of the object. Likewise, students were required to engage in higher order thinking, in order to formulate possible solutions to the dilemma. These experiences provided students with the opportunity to be inclusive in their learning, and consolidate their understanding of key concepts that are relevant to the lesson goals (Prain & Hand, 1999). Teacher observations and questioning during group work, guided the student’s discussions, with the teacher embracing a teaching style where multiliteracies were used. The New London Group (1996) have profoundly impacted on teaching practices, literacy research, policy curriculum and pedagogy (Mills, 2006). Gee (1991) explores social literacy and the impact of a student’s discourse that are established outside the classroom, from their social group, family and cultural ties.
Their view of literacy as social practice and their emphasis on incorporating the rapidly increasing number of electronic and multimodal text types in 21st century society into teaching practice represents a clear break away from the single dimensional teaching of literacy. However, for multiliteracies such as digital literacies, multimodal resources and ICT to provide best learning for students, teachers must be prepared to embrace the view that literacy is a social practice and and an essential skill underpinning all curriculum areas. Teachers also need to recognise that each lesson they teach to students provides the opportunity to develop the student’s literacy skills. In order to facilitate this change in pedagogical ideology, teachers must be prepared to evaluate their current teaching practice and adopt a more holistic approach to developing literacy skills in their students. As a consequence, students should be exposed to participative learning experiences with real life learning outcomes.
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